Malala Yousafzai turned 21 on the 12th of July.
A few months ago I popped into my local library at the Reginald Centre and walked out with a copy of a now 5-year-old book: “I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban”.
You may have read it yourself – a vibrant story of a father and his daughter and their passion for learning in spite of all sorts of financial, political and religious obstacles.
The book was written with an experienced journalist – Christina Lamb – who helps put Malala’s experiences in the wider historical and geographical context but the book is really an account of a teenager’s extraordinary life.
It will not spoil it if I fill you in on some of the main details… Malala secretly wrote blogs for the BBC about life as a girl in Pakistan (Swat Valley), pursuing her education and human rights in an area controlled by the Taliban. She became known for being shot in the head by the Taliban aged 15 due to her activism and recovering in the UK.
However she distinguished herself not as a victim but as a global role model, becoming the youngest person to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize. She has had a mixed reception back in Pakistan where her book has been banned by some private schools for being “anti-Pakistan and anti-Islam,” and yet former cricket player and Pakistani politician, Imran Khan said she represented “the struggle of girls and women everywhere against tyranny and oppression”.
She has continued to challenge the way things are, from expressing her concern to Barack Obama about the impact of US drone strikes in Pakistan, to returning to Pakistan despite an ongoing risk to her life.
I see Malala as symbolic of someone fighting to achieve her potential and not be held back, but also to not let others be held back either, of someone who is determined her voice will be heard. Through her charity – the Malala fund – $6millon has been raised for the education of girls in Pakistan, and work is also ongoing in five other countries like Syria and Nigeria to advocate for and enable 12 years of education for every girl. Despite the difficulties of her early life and her near death experience, with ongoing protection from armed guards, she is now studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics at university in Oxford with an ambition to return to Pakistan.
Another thing I have taken from Malala’s story is that what may at first seem to be a setback, may enable you to what you need to do … A Taliban leader boarded a school bus in October 2012 and asked “Who is Malala?” with a gun in his hand. Last month he was killed in one of the US drone strikes Malala had criticised. Instead of silencing her voice, she was amplified.
Do what you need to do.
Written By Geraldine Montgomerie-Greenwood
Artwork by Geraldine Montgomerie-Greenwood